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A time to be brave

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

In Sunday's (December 11, 2022) Gospel reading (Matthew 11), Jesus is talking with his disciples about John the Baptist and says, "Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

The USCCB's website explains that John’s greatness in this context is earthly - he was the greatest among the prophets because he was the one to whom God gave the privilege to announce that Jesus, the kingdom of God, was at hand. But just being in the kingdom, even being the least in the kingdom, is a greater role than John the Baptist's role as a prophet here on earth.

Ah, but what does it mean to be in the kingdom? In speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus told him, "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" (John 3:5), which is generally understood to mean we must be baptized. Some might say that's all we need - believe and be baptized - but I disagree. Being baptized comes after an encounter with Jesus, after which we recognize our need to "repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).

This conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus includes one of the most quoted sentences of the New Testament, John 3:16, but here is more context (3:14-17):

"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

This is the good news we are called to believe! God does not seek to condemn us. He seeks to heal us and bring us to eternal life with him. But what does it mean to "believe in him"? I like to think of it as trusting that Jesus is who he says he is and coming to Him will bring us to eternal life.

This conversation with Nicodemus ends (verses 19-21) with Jesus saying:

"The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."

I think Jesus is describing repentance here. Repentance essentially means a deep transformation, turning oneself completely around. In the context of John 3 we can think of it as "coming towards the light", by turning away from evil and coming to Jesus. We do this after we encounter Jesus in hearing the good news, and realized God did come into the world as Jesus, and Jesus suffered and died on the cross, but ultimate was resurrected.

Now, take a minute to watch this explanation of Moses holding up the serpent in the desert and how it explains the cross, by Jordan Peterson appearing on Joe Rogan's podcast.

Re-read the excerpts from John Chapter 3 above in light of what you just watched and heard.

Jesus looked on the suffering of humanity and chose to enter into it out of love for us, starting with his own Incarnation we celebrate this Christmas. He submitted himself to humanity's death and destruction. But he was lifted up on the cross, and when we look deeply into and past his death and see the light of his resurrection, we see the light into which we are called.

Entering into the Kingdom of God includes this repentance, this coming towards the light, or, entering into the death and destruction of this world out of love. Can we enter that abyss of our neighbor's suffering, guided by the light of Jesus' resurrection, so that out of love, we bring mercy into the world? As St. Teresa of Calcutta would say, we are called to love that way, and "love until it hurts". Maybe looking at Jesus on the cross can give us the bravery to do that. Perhaps this would lead us to be the least in the Kingdom of God?

In that light, consider these challenge questions for this week:

Where do you see suffering around you?

How brave do you feel to enter into that suffering out of love?

Can you picture yourself entering the kingdom, there?

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